Labor Vs. Chamber: Swine Flu Sick Days

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It's the next round in the ongoing battle between organized labor and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce: paid sick leave in light of the swine flu epidemic.

Labor has long supported mandatory paid sick leave. Now, in light of the H1N1 flu epidemic, labor and labor-friendly Democrats are trying to pass legislation through Congress that would mandate paid sick leave for American workers--they could earn up to 7 days under a bill proposed by Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CA), the Senate analogue of which was introduced by Sen. Chris Dodd (D-CT). DeLauro's bill would only apply to businesses that employ 15 or more workers.

Supporters of the legislation are presenting it as an emergency response to swine flu, as more Americans are getting sick this year but don't get paid for their time off. They make a health argument for the policy, too: if a food-service-industry worker, for instance, gets swine flu but can't afford to miss work, it puts more people at risk of infection.

That said, it's an effort to pass a general sick-leave policy: it's not that people who get swine flu would get extra sick days--it's that everyone would get sick days, which labor has wanted for a long time.

As part of this push, the Service Employees International Union has launched an online petition against the Chamber. "Despite widespread support for this measure, the U.S. Chamber is trying to kill it," SEIU says.

The Chamber says it does not oppose the legislation and that DeLauro has proposed and that the it doesn't have a policy on mandatory paid sick leave. It also accuses SEIU of using inaccurate data on how many Americans have paid sick leave: SEIU says 30 percent; the Chamber says 83 percent.

Like Yankees vs. Red Sox, Yin vs. Yang, and Spy vs. Spy, the labor/Chamber feud is a contrast in structural opposites that may actually never end, progressing through the ages until both are locked in deadly combat as the last escape vessel leaves the imploding Earth...nor would our political world be complete without it.

Sick leave is not a new battleground, but the H1N1 epidemic has brought it back into the fore.

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Chris Good is a political reporter for ABC News. He was previously an associate editor at The Atlantic and a reporter for The Hill.

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